11 Dec 2021

Shining Stars: Yerba Buena Celebrates Annual Parol Lantern Holiday Festival

The Yerba Buena Center for the Arts will be shining bright on Saturday, Dec. 11, as it hosts the 19th annual Parol Lantern Festival.

The holiday event celebrates Filipino Christmas traditions with food, drinks, art, dance and musical performances. At the center of the celebration is the parol lantern, the quintessential Filipino holiday symbol of hope, blessings, luck and peace. “Light Tomorrow with Today” is this year’s theme.

The colorful parol lanterns – usually in the shape of a five-point star and constructed with bamboo — have been hung in front of homes and churches during the holiday season in the Philippines for centuries. MC Canlas founded the festival to share the tradition in San Francisco.

“The parol is the iconic symbol of longing and belonging,” said Canlas. He explained that the sight of the parol leaves Filipino expatriates nostalgic for Christmas in their homeland, but bringing the holiday symbol to the South of Market area made them feel invested in their new home.

Canlas credits the Parol Lantern Festival, including the month-long parol-making workshops that lead up to it, as a main influence that led San Francisco to designate much of the South of Market area as the SOMA Pilipinas Heritage District.

Saturday’s festival, which is presented by the Filipino-American Development Foundation and SOMA Pilipinas, kicks off with a Taste of Christmas, with free samplings (while they last) of traditional Filipino holiday treats from 4-6 p.m. Live music will be performed by TNT Traysikel, jazz quintet Autonomous Region and Rondolla Ensemble from 4-6:30.

The evening culminates with the Parol Lighting Ceremony from 6:30-7:30 p.m. featuring a youth choir, Kularts’ Lakbai Diwa, a ritual dance performance of a living dance prayer and meditation for the world with spirit boat offering of food, flower, herbs and power objects, festooned with prayer flags.

The parols that will brighten up Yerba Buena Center will be from various sources, including commissioned artists, the Philippines, past festivals and from the parol-making workshops held in November at YBCA.

Canlas oversaw the workshops and shared with the novice parol-makers the history of the parol, dating back to even before Christianity was brought to the Philippines 500 years ago. It is now often linked to the Star of Bethelem, but Canlas says the five-point star might represent the sun, an iconic symbol to Filipinos, one featured prominently in the national flag.

He also shared that parols are made from bamboo because of the mythology that the first Filipinos were made from the strong, flexible wood.

For more information, visit the Annual Parol Latern Festival Facebook page and ybca.org.
Photos courtesy of MC Canlas